How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? It could be as much as three tons! Though woodchucks don’t chuck wood, they can move about 5,500 pounds of dirt excavating their burrows. The nickname “woodchuck” actually comes from the Algonquin name, “wuchak.” Woodchuck, groundhog, whistle pigs, land beavers– any way you say it, they all refer to the same critter. You’ve probably already heard of these weather-predicting creatures thanks to “Groundhog Day” and wondering if Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow. Let’s do some digging into the biology of North America’s largest squirrel.

 

Did you know?

  • Woodchucks are the largest members of the squirrel family and can climb trees.
  • Woodchucks are the only marmots east of the Mississippi.
  • Their fur is a popular fly-tying ingredient used in woodchuck hair stoneflies and caddisflies.
  • The tradition of Groundhog Day began in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania in 1886 based on the German interpretation of Candlemas Day.

 

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Pearly white teeth of a woodchuck. Photo credit: Steve Baker

 

  1. A dentist’s dream.

A groundhog’s teeth never stop growing. Their upper and lower incisors can grow up to 1/16” every week and average a length of 4 inches. Their incisors usually grind against each other, keeping them short. Occasionally, the teeth are misaligned and will keep growing. The outcome is painful and sometimes fatal. Unlike most other rodents, their teeth are pearly white to yellowish-white.

 

  1. Regional rodents.

Georgia is the southernmost range for these over-sized ground squirrels. You’ll only see them in North Georgia and the Piedmont, but you will see them in both rural and urban areas.

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Woodchuck peeking out from their burrow. Photo credit: Michael Rathwell

 

  1. They really dig digging.

Whistle pigs can move almost three tons of dirt excavating a burrow. Their burrows can reach 30 feet or more in length and have multiple tunnels and chambers within. Woodchucks build between 2 to 5 entrances into the burrow to help them escape when foraging above ground. With a top speed of 10 miles an hour, they’re no match for faster predators.

 

  1. Whistle while you work.

The nickname “whistle pig” comes from the loud, high-pitched whistle they use to alert other woodchucks of danger. Even though this species of marmot prefers to live alone, it’s a relief to have good neighbors when the local eagle flies by.

 

  1. Hibernation hijinx.

Woodchucks are considered true hibernators and enter into a deep sleep in late fall. During their 5-month-long nap, they may wake up and take a walk or a bathroom break. In preparation of playing Rip Van Winkle, most of a woodchuck’s spring and summer is spent eating their greens to build up fat reserves to survive their winter slumber.

Fun fact: A woodchuck can lower their body temperature to 38 degrees Fahrenheit and slow their heart rate down to 4 beats per minute during hibernation!